Science In The News

leadI’ve been working on this general thought all week. You will find it very rough at first, but follow below for some full context.

The mainstream media has a deeply flawed style of reporting science stories. They take a single scientific study, not a trend in the literature, and reports it as almost indisputable fact. This is a huge problem. To observe this phenomenon just watch your local news. I don’t know if drinking red wine will let me live forever, or kill me tomorrow. They just jump on the latest, single study from a peer reviewed journal and report it as settled science. The public does not know enough about the pillars of the scientific method to understand. They just rely on the reporting of their local information gate-keepers. The news just throws up a tease before a commercial break saying something like, “How eating chocolate may affect your health. Coming up in 30 seconds.” This then is followed by a report that is far too short for even the study’s abstract to be read aloud. This is unbelievably irresponsible.

In light of the above rant I wrote and re-wrote on  my iPhone at work all week, I found on the web today a terrific article in The Atlantic that backs me up. The Thursday piece is about a Pew Research poll  that shows people have no doubt in science’s progress and usefulness, yet they still disagree with some specific findings. These include hot-button issues like global-warming, genetically modified food, and opinions on vaccines’ effectiveness and safety. So let me quote something from the article I found that contributes to my argument:

For their part, scientists in the Pew survey faulted the media and the public itself for the existence of these gaps. The “public doesn’t know much about science” was reported as a major problem by 84 percent of scientists, and 79 percent considered “news reports don’t distinguish well-founded findings” a major problem. About half of scientists said oversimplification by the media and a public that expects solutions too quickly were major problems.

Fair enough. The translating of dense, precise scientific studies into digestible, clickable news stories is a tricky business. When a publication mistakenly says a single study “proves” something, or, heaven forbid, implies causation where there is merely correlation, those who know better are eager to jump in and point out the mistake. And it probably doesn’t help the publications’ reputations as legitimate sources of information. Of course, no matter how careful a writer is to say “associated with,” to transparently point out small sample sizes, to repeat the scientists’ claim that “more research is needed,” you’ll still get commenters crying “pseudoscience.”

So we must be vigilant. The misrepresented news of peer-reviewed publications’ studies and experiments need to be reported as part of a larger conversation. And that includes the work of many researchers over a usually lengthy amount of time, not just a 20-second news bite or Yahoo! article.

 

The Need for Better Childcare

23OBAMA-1421950110100-master675I know the childcare issue is not sexy. And I know that this post will not get a million views this week. But childcare is an essential issue for those of the lower socioeconomic status (SES) trying to claw their way towards a better life.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) melded with West Germany and it’s capitalist ways. But the East Germans had some problems with the West’s free-market policies. The absence of a State-ran economy left many soured and one of the many reasons were the West’s views of the family, and childcare more specifically. The GDR policy was that after childbirth a mother would have a full-year of paid-leave from their job followed by free childcare that was provided by the state. This led to a social movement comprising of the mother’s of the GDR who ran a successful campaign to meet the West German authorities halfway.

Now the reason I tell this story is twofold. First, I love to pick apart capitalist policies by comparing them to what were successful Communist programs. But the substantive reason is that Pres. Obama has finally taken up the cause for affordable childcare this week revealing it in his SOTU speech.

At the University of Kansas Jan. 22nd, Pres. Obama proposed his new revamping of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 2014 along with the Child Care and Development Fund. Here are some of the details from the New York Times article covering the event:

– Obama called for an $80 billion expansion of a federal program that provides child care subsidies to low- and middle-income families with children ages 3 and under, nearly doubling the aid and offering it to more than one million additional children over the next decade.

He promoted his plan to nearly triple, to $3,000 per child, the maximum child care tax credit. And the president said he would push to put more federal money into early childhood programs, expanding the availability of free preschool and extending Head Start — focused on low-income families — to last an entire day, and for the full school year.

White House officials said while the average subsidy for low- and moderate-income families under the federal Child Care and Development Fund was $5,500 in 2013, Mr. Obama’s expansion of the program would aim to cover the entire cost of high-quality care, an average of $10,000. And the number of children covered would nearly double, to 2.6 million in 2025.

-The increased subsidies and tax credits would be financed by Mr. Obama’s plan to increase taxes on investments and inherited wealth, as well as a fee on large financial institutions. The preschool initiative would be paid for by increasing tobacco taxes.

As essential as this legislation is for low-income families, it will more than likely be watered-down by the GOP lawmakers who refuse to fund anything, ever, coming out of the federal budget. And this is assuming it will ever reach the Capitol floor with both the House and Senate being ran by Republicans for at least the next two years.

But if Obama’s proposals do find some tread, maybe we can find our way a little closer to the GDR.

Here is a great clip of Pres. Obama at the University of Kansas on Wednesday speaking about the childcare issue. These speeches always get me fired up.

Obama On Childcare in Kansas

 

 

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Some Lessons Society Still Hasn’t Learned From Martin Luther King, Jr.

As I listened to the newly discovered recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech from December 7, 1964 in London, I couldn’t help but notice how many different lessons from his speech we still haven’t learned as a society.  It’s a little more than 50 years later and we still struggle to get over so many hurdles that should have been accomplished so long ago.  Here’s a few instances from the speech that jump out for me.

With the growth of slavery, it became necessary to give some justification for it. You know, it seems to be a fact of life that human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong in the beautiful garments of righteousness.

While slavery is obviously an evil of the distant past, as it was at the time of the speech, there are still instances where wrongs are thinly justified by almost irrational justifications.  What has really struck me lately has been the white justification of recent police killings of African-American men and children.  One of the commonly shared themes on social media I have witnessed by white posters has been the sharing of horrific stories of African-American men committing crimes against white people and asking, “Where’s the media on this?”  “Where’s the public outcry?”  “Where’s the protest?”  “Where’s Al Sharpton?”

The problem with this, obviously, is it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.  Criminals are criminals and they will commit horrific acts that are unacceptable to society, regardless of the color of their skin or the color of the victim’s skin.  Police officers, however, are supposed to be highly trained peace officers that keep the public safe and respect the rights of all, also regardless of skin color.  There have been some clear instances where this hasn’t been happening and for white people to justify the criminal actions of those that have been trained to act within the law (and have paid no price for it) by posting stories of black-on-white crime is despicable.  This is the definition of “reaching out for some thin rationalization to clothe an obvious wrong”.

The Negro in the United States turned his eyes and his mind to Africa, and he noticed the magnificent drama of independence taking place on the stage of African history…And with this new sense of dignity and this new sense of self-respect, a new Negro came into being with a new determination to suffer, to struggle, to sacrifice, and even to die, if necessary, in order to be free.

I can’t help but notice how these same words could be spoken about the Arab Spring and the quick changes that came to so many countries in the Arab world.  While things are still in the process of changing in many of those countries and conditions are far from perfect, U.S. actions in relation to the events were (and continue to be) deplorable.  Instead of embracing the people and protesters who put their lives on the line for what our government says it loves, the U.S. government continued to back certain authoritarian regimes and turned a blind-eye (or continued to arm regimes) as countries like Bahrain brutally put down protests to maintain their grasp on power.  Our government officials can pay all the lip service they want to freedom but their actions are a much clearer indicator of their true feelings.

We all know what happened as a result of the old Plessy doctrine: There was always the strict enforcement of the separate, without the slightest intention to abide by the equal.

To say that equality in the overall system reigns supreme today is simply ignoring reality.  The justice system became incredibly lopsided in terms of incarceration rates shortly after King gave this speech as the drug war was ramped up.  Pew Research notes, “In 2010, all black men were six times as likely as all white men to be incarcerated in federal, state and local jails”.  It shouldn’t be surprising that is coupled with disparities in education spending.  The Center for American Progress found U.S. “schools spent $334 more on every white student than on every nonwhite student”.  While the days of overt segregation may be done, the covert methods of segregation are far from gone.

…all types of conniving methods are still being used to keep Negroes from becoming registered voters.

The only words that need to be changed to relate it to Republican and Tea Party actions of present day are the last three.  Just delete those and insert “voting”.  And using the miniscule amount of voter fraud as justification is just another instance of thin rationalization.

So we can see that there is still a great gulf between the haves, so to speak, and the have-nots. And if America is to continue to grow and progress and develop and move on toward its greatness, this problem must be solved.

We just found out the top 1% will own more than half of the world’s wealth by next year soooo, this has not only not changed for the better, it’s gotten incredibly worse.  I’m sure Dr. King would be rightfully appalled.

Today, great leaders, like Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, are among the many hundreds wasting away in Robben Island prison. Against a massive, armed and ruthless state, which uses torture and sadistic forms of interrogation to crush human beings, even driving some to suicide.

While King might not be surprised torture and sadistic forms of interrogation are still being used today, he would probably be shocked to know the U.S. government was using them recently and using rendition to allow more harsh methods.  How could the people we elected choose to commit crimes that we knew were reprehensible so long ago?  Still an astounding decision.

If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil, if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny that we find there, then apartheid would be brought to an end. Then the majority of South Africans of all races could at last build the shared society they desire.

A few situations around the world come to mind here but none more prominent than Israel and the continued support given to it by the U.S. despite the crimes it commits against so many in the West Bank and Gaza.  The U.S. has the power to pressure the Israeli government into allowing the formation of a Palestinian state yet does the exact opposite by continuing to arm Israel, who then uses those arms to kill thousands of Palestinians using incredibly questionable justifications (there’s that word again…).  The U.S. has the answer to the problem but chooses to ignore it.

…we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Muslims, theists and atheists—will be able to join hands and sing…

Religious tolerance?!  Blasphemer!!

I’m kidding, of course, but this is certainly a lesson that still hasn’t made its way into the psyche of America, and that definitely includes parties on both sides of the political spectrum.  The amount of Islamophobia running rampant in the Western world right now is startling.  King would be heartbroken, for sure, but would fight on as always.

…there are some things in the world, to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation, discrimination, colonialism and these particular forces. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I must say to you tonight that I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.

Maybe the most powerful words to live by in the speech.  Certainly worth the quote.  If only we could all be so lucky as to be so maladjusted…

 

Social Protest Lit.: Langston Hughes’ “Scottsboro”

indexA poem by Langston Hughes, Black American poet and writer, entitled “Scottsboro” from Book IV called “Out of The Depths.” This chapter is focused on man’s pursuit of remedy for social injustice:

8 BLACK BOYS IN A SOUTHERN JAIL

WORLD TURN PALE!

8 black boys and one white lie.

Is it too much to die?

Is it much to die when immortal feet,

March with down Time’s street,

When beyond steel bars sound the deathless drums

Like a mighty heart-beat as they come?

Who comes?

Christ,

Who fought alone,

John Brown.

That mad mob

That tore the Bastille down

Stone by stone.

Moses

Jeanne d’Arc

Dessalines

Nat Turner

Fighters for the free.

Lenin with the flag blood red.

(Not dead! Not dead! None of these is dead.)

Gandhi

Sandino

Evangelista, too,

To walk with you–

8 BLACK BOYS IN A SOUTHERN JAIL.

WORLD TURN PALE!

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Conservatives Criticizing Obama for Paris Photo-op Forget World Hates Their Foreign Policy

It’s not surprising that conservatives have jumped on the Obama administration for sending ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, to the photo-op of free-press-hating world leaders (an issue that, in all fairness, the Obama administration has its own black eyes).  It’s not even surprising that a conservative has stooped to the point of making a ridiculous, childish, and brainless Hitler comparison.  It’s just politics and one side will criticize the other for…anything.

What is surprising is that conservatives think the Obama administration would even want their opinion when it comes to foreign policy, particularly when it deals with Europe.

A conveniently forgotten fact for conservatives is they pretty much got their way on foreign policy with the previous administration…and it was a complete disaster that the world mostly came to hate them for for implementing, especially Europe.  Let take a quick look at some numbers from the chart linked and displayed to back up that fact.

European opinion of the U.S. was riding rather high toward the end of the Clinton administration in ’99 and ’00 with most of the countries listed well over 70% favorable.  By 2002, the drop under the Bush administration had already begun despite this being prior to the Iraq debacle and coming off the sympathy the world showed after the 9/11 attacks.  By 2007, four of the seven countries of which there is data had dropped below 50% with Germany coming in at a whopping 48% drop to 30%.

Enter the Obama administration.  By 2012, all seven countries had returned to more than 50% favorable opinions with four countries at 60% or more.  And this occurred despite widespread disapproval of U.S. drone strikes.

On top of all that is the other conveniently forgotten fact conservatives are ignoring: Bush administration torture policies helped radicalize the attackers.

Conservatives can choose to ignore these realities all they want but facts are facts no matter how inconvenient.

Frontline On The NRA: “Gunned Down”

080513_frontline_stack_card.380x212.jpg.fit.480x270For anyone who is interested in the gun control debate should watch this episode of “Frontline” entitled “Gunned Down.”

The documentary is about the NRA and it’s powerful lobbying history. It covers how the organization has always come out on top despite many senseless murders and massacres committed by assailants with firearms. Follow the link. (I apologize about using the link instead of embedding the video. WordPress does not allow Frontline’s documentaries to be embedded on its platform)

http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365397152?chapter=1” target=”_blank”>Frontline: “Gunned Down”

 

 

 

 

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Obama and Community College Proposal

09UP-College-superJumboOn Jan. 9th at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, TN, Pres. Obama issued a landmark proposal for the government to pay the tuition for two-year community college programs nationwide, making them free. It is a stunning step that could raise the quality of life for millions of Americans.

The obtainment of a secondary-education is the path to the middle class for both newly graduated high school students and older adults looking to advance themselves who could not otherwise afford it.

According to a piece in the NYT by Justin Wolfers, in “The Upshot”, the macro economic benefits would also be great for it would increase both output and raise living standards across the middle and lower classes. He continues that:

Mr. Obama’s proposal is an effort to revive education as one of the drivers of economic growth. If he succeeds in persuading more of the next generation to continue beyond high school, and to invest in community college and possibly beyond, there’s a strong chance the rate of economic growth will be bolstered for decades to come. And relative to other ways of strengthening growth, investment in community college is most likely to ensure that the middle class shares in the benefits of it.

Now students must attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completing their program to be eligible. So there are strings attached that I am sure the critics will love to claim are not there.

And for those fiscal hawks out there, the government would pay for 75% of the costs (by investing $60 billion over the next 10 years) while the participating state would cover the remaining 25%. But keep in mind that the annual Federal budget is $3.5 trillion , making $60 million a drop in the bucket.

And one other thing. Make sure that we keep in mind that furthering one’s education does not solely benefit us economically. It also makes us more informed, better suited citizens ready to lead our nation through voting choices or even by holding higher-office.

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The Anti-Gay Marriage Stupid is Happily in Its Last Throes

Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi are making their cases in a federal appellate court to maintain their gay marriage bans.  Their reasons for continuing these civil rights violations are so awful it’s just laughable at this point.  Let the stupid begin:

Louisiana went first, telling a federal appellate panel that giving gays and lesbians marriage rights is so risky and unproven that states must be allowed to protect their citizens against it.

Same-sex marriage is “a novel perception” in terms of recorded history, argued Louisiana’s special counsel, Kyle Duncan.

Only ten years of data has been gathered since Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriages, he said – not enough to know the consequences if courts keep overturning state-imposed bans.

Wow.  I understand that these three states are scraping the bottom of the barrel in terms of state education rankings, but that argument is just atrocious.  How could you even keep a straight face listening to that?

Ten years of data?  What!?  As if to say there were zero gays and lesbians existing and living together prior to the Massachusetts ruling and zero studies of the effects on surrounding societies, which is just insane.

Happily, the Supreme Court appears to be on its way to finally taking up this issue and handing down a ruling that very likely legalizes gay marriage across the country.  This, of course, does not lift the black-eye off of them for all of their previous actions that did not reach this inevitability, a point mentioned in the article:

Only 14 states still prohibit same-sex unions, which may give the justices reassurance that the country is ready for a nationwide change.

Three earlier seminal high court rulings that outlawed state-backed discrimination – involving education, interracial marriage and criminal prohibitions against gay sex – were issued when similar fractions of the country still kept discriminatory laws on their books.

Justice may be blind but it apparently still reads the opinion polls enough to stick itself in the eye over and over.  Now, if only we could address that whole “corporations are people, too” thing…

Can Palestinians Start to Live on Their Feet?

mag-gaza-4-superJumboOn Dec. 30th, the UN Security Council voted down a proposal submitted by Jordan on behalf of the Palestinians that would have:

1) Set a one-year deadline for negotiations with Israel;

2) Established targets for Palestinian sovereignty, including a capital in East Jerusalem;

3) Called for the “full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces” from the West Bank by the end of 2017.

Only 8 of the total of 15 nations voted for the resolution when at least 9 supporting members are needed for adoption. Oh, and that is irrelevant for the United States would have vetoed the resolution if it were to get the 9 votes anyways as the U.S. is a permanent member of the Security Council with veto power. Just saying… But the Palestinian Authority, led by Pres. Mahmoud Abbas, says it will apply again when members of the revolving Security Council are more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Also, this past Wednesday Abbas moved to join the International Criminal Court in a symbolic step to put Israel on notice regarding prosecution for violations of international law, e.g., war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity. In response the Israelis have frozen $127 million in tax revenue which supports the Palestinian Authority (PA). These funds are provided to the PA under the Oslo Accords agreement to maintain stability. Israel collects $1 billion annually in customs and taxes on behalf of the PA and the money goes to the organization. It would probably collapse without it.

In light of the above actions by the Israeli government, a great analysis in the NYT yesterday explains the momentum is actually on the Palestinians’ side. And according to a couple of quotes from rank-and-file Palestinians in the article shows they may be able to live on their feet instead of their knees.

I hear it from my father for the first time: Even if we will not get our salaries and the economic situation will be worse, at least we can say we will get our rights,” Rula Salameh said of her father, who is 70 and relies on a Palestinian Authority pension.

Ms. Salameh said her sister, who is on the government payroll, “hears it also from her friends, her colleagues — they said even if we will not get our salaries, we need to feel like something is going on, tomorrow will be better than today.

 

 

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